Back in the saddle
Why mining is integral to every living person is proof from the domestic appliances to the cooking utensils to the jewellery we wear, and even the fillings used by the dentist in teeth. Most of the materials used to make these objects are from materials that are dug out or mined. It is not necessary that all these are mined only underground. While coal and some minerals are available under the ground, open-cast or surface mining has minerals like iron ore, copper and manganese. These processes include the use of quarries, inclines and shafts, in underground mines, while in open cast mines, the minerals are on the surface and involves drilling, blasting and transporting of the ore.
The mining sector has always been at the core of a nation’s economy. Producing about 89 minerals, the majority of the country’s mines (292 in public sector and 2,326 in private sector) are located in the states of Karnataka, Orissa, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. However, this sector has been beleaguered with the lack of full automated, high capacity technological equipment.
Samir Bansal, GM, India, Off-Highway Research, says, “Demand for mining equipment in India peaked during 2008-2009 period along with the global growth of the mining industry fuelled by ever increasing commodity prices. This was mainly due the pull from the Chinese market, initially due to the construction activity for the Olympic Games followed by the stimulus after the global economic crisis.”
However, sales of rigid dump trucks and crawler dozers that are mainly used for mining applications in India nearly halved by 2012 due to drop in global demand and commodity prices, and various legal and social issues such as ban on illegal mining, delay in government clearances and approvals for environment and forest, and land acquisition and compensation. The market witnessed a significant recovery of 22% in 2013, but declined 7% in 2014, adds Bansal. The coal sector is the major driver for mining equipment demand in the country and the increased focus of the new government to increase local production and reduce imports, resulted in sales growth of 12% in 2015. However, equipment demand again declined by 16% in 2016 as distribution companies did not have money to buy power, which resulted in stock piling of coal at mines and also at power generation plants. This also adversely impacted the government’s plans for increasing the coal production to one billion tonnes by 2019.
The key fundamentals – population growth, urbanisation and the rising middle class – continue to remain in place and make mining an attractive long term business. Leveraging technology, data and enhanced mine site support to significantly improve mining productivity and efficiency are crucial in achieving world-class performance. Rahul Jain, mining region manager, Caterpillar (India, Srilanka, Nepal and Bhutan), says, “We continue to adapt to the changing needs of the mining equipment companies and are a long term partner beyond the iron we provide. We are excited about the technological changes coming to the mining industry and are eager to showcase our capabilities.”
Dimitrov Krishnan, VP and head of Volvo CE India, says, “Mine sites often run up to 22 hours a day, so any machine has to be comfortable, as well as reliable. Generally speaking, manufacturing companies are making larger and bigger equipment, so as to help mining contractors maximise their output.”
There are more than 30 manufacturers of mining equipment in the organised sector, both in public and private, for underground and surface mining equipment. As of mid-2016, the market size of the mining equipment in India was estimated to be Rs 10,000 crore.
Despite the volatility in the mining sector in India, future demand projection is optimistic as 22 states have already subscribed to the ‘UDAY’ scheme, under which states would take over the debt of the distribution companies and issue bonds for financing the same, says Bansal. “This would help increase the power purchase and subsequently the demand for coal and mining equipment in the country. Further, the government is also exploring options to now start exporting coal from the country and keep pace with its production targets,” he adds.
Advancements in technology
Samar Pal, national head, India mining division, Liebherr India, says, “We have excavators ranging from 100 tonnes to 800 tonnes for this sector alone. Customers are interested in cost per tonne, but this largely dependant on fuel efficiency. There are several advancements in achieving fuel economy. We have an in-built diagnostic facilities machine that can show you the condition, productivity balance and allow the user to achieve optimum advantage. The diagnostics advisor is in-built and helps the user troubleshoot when in operation. It can also calculate the load and record real time production.”
Jain of Caterpillar says there have been several advancements in equipment technology for this industry alone. A key area where Caterpillar is innovating is in the area of electric drives and energy storage. “Many of our underground mining customers are going deeper in search of high grade ore. With that comes many challenges relevant to infrastructure, ventilation and increased ambient heat at those depths. We are researching/developing technology to help our customers meet these challenges and reduce their capital expenditures and total cost of ownership. One area is “electrification” of our underground mining equipment. We are leveraging our energy storage development across Caterpillar for the underground mining applications,” he says.
Krishnan of Volvo CE India says that the company has introduced two new range topping machines in its excavator and articulated hauler lines. The EC950E is Volvo’s new flagship crawler excavator and it has already proven to be extremely competitive in its 90-tonne weight class. Similarly, Volvo’s new 60-tonne A60H, the world’s largest articulated hauler, sets new productivity standards for open cast mines and other large earth-moving operations. While both machines offer state-of-the-art performance individually, it’s when matched together that mining customers can experience the unprecedented productivity and ownership advantages these units offer. “The EC950E will move around 35% more material than the EC750D which was previously the largest machine in Volvo’s excavator range. For the A60H hauler, it will move 40% more material than the Volvo A40G.By using these highly-productive machines our mining customers can get more done with fewer machines, allowing them to optimise their fleet sizes. This delivers better operating efficiency, particularly in mine management. Having larger machines also means fewer operators and less maintenance, delivering further resource optimisation,” he adds.
Subrat Mishra, deputy GM, services, Konecranes India, says, “Technologies such as TRUCONNECT are not only important to the industry generally, but particularly so to the mining industry because of its emphases on safety and reliability. Safety and reliability innovations are absolutely key to achieving the industry’s objectives of zero accidents, elimination of production interruptions, and optimum output.”
Besides satisfying the major objectives of safety and no interruptions to production, TRUCONNECT assists companies to get maximum efficient life out of their equipment while also assisting miners in achieving compliance with safety regulations. Compliance is a major issue with miners.
Jain says that in the span of just a couple of years, Caterpillar went from a prototype autonomous truck, to a commercially viable capability that is now helping customers deliver up to 20% greater productivity than their manned fleets, while delivering greatly enhanced safety results. “We approach technology development in a spirit of collaboration from our customers and are able to quickly learn what works and what does not. Our autonomy solution is unique with proprietary hardware that is not taken from an autonomous car, but developed for the harsh conditions of the mining industry. We have developed a scalable technology that can handle the largest truck fleets, and are now unbundling our autonomous capabilities to bring semi-autonomous functionality to more customers,” he says.
Caterpillar also continues to develop and bring to market hard rock-cutting technologies. In August 2016, it introduced new Rock Straight System, which offers fully automated mining of tabular, low seams of hard rock. It replaces drill and blast of silver, copper, chrome, platinum and gold.
While reliability and productivity are the principle requirements of all modern mining equipment, companies go above and beyond to deliver machines that not only give owners a competitive advantage, but make them popular on site. Krishnan of Volvo CE India says that Volvo designs are superior because it manufactured more of the components themselves. “For example, we know our drivelines are matched to our engines, because we build them both. We also make our own dropbox and axles. Another feature that sets Volvo apart is the emphasis on the operator. Volvo considers operators to be crucial in delivering optimum productivity. In mining, where operations are structured on the highest levels of output, a more conducive environment for the operator can mean an improved bottom line for a company,” he adds.
Overall, companies are developing technologies connected to electro-mobility, intelligent machines and total site solutions that will benefit customers in the mining industry by contributing to increased machine performance, productivity, efficiency, safety and sustainability. If the government continues to focus on mining as an industry, equipment manufacturers who are ready with futuristic solutions can immediately support this industry.